Jul 26, 2021

As a once-in-a-century pandemic, the COVID pandemic produced impacts way beyond just its serious health impacts. We are still feeling the effects of the loss of jobs, supply bottlenecks, school shutdowns, and a surge in mental and physical health illnesses.

As a staff member of Good Shepherd Housing — a 47-year-old affordable housing and homeless services provider based along Richmond Highway — I watched these effects unfold in our community last spring. The effects of the pandemic were swift and acute in many low-income neighborhoods along the Highway, where we provide our affordable housing and services.

Also, households impacted by the pandemic felt its effects in multiple and overlapping ways. When heads of households lost their jobs or work hours, their families were made more vulnerable in their housing. For renter families, they faced a greater chance of eviction for failing to pay rent.

At the same time, these families experienced unexpected healthcare and childcare expenses (e.g, while their children were doing at-home virtual learning), food shortages, and stress-related mental health issues, too. The pandemic had cascading impacts on the families.

What mattered was that the community and local government stepped up to help. In particular, Fairfax County human services agencies coordinated a strong response. Since March 2020, the County has secured six federal and other funding sources and disbursed $100 million-plus to residents with federal COVID-related relief funds. The County assisted 10,000 households with emergency rental assistance.

At Good Shepherd Housing, we joined with other Fairfax County community-based organizations and nonprofits to help distribute these funds. We estimate that we helped over 600 households stay in their housing through the pandemic. It made a world of difference to so many struggling and at-risk households.

For years before the pandemic, Fairfax County had invested in a strong human services safety net and its network of community-based providers (like Good Shepherd Housing). When the pandemic was upon us, the safety net was in place and functional. It made a difference in delivering assistance to the most vulnerable households and neighborhoods—and doing so quickly.

Also, Fairfax County has always taken a coordinated intake approach for its residents. Through the County’s Coordinated Services Planning (“CSP”) agency, the County will assess the full needs of residents in crisis, whether their needs are for food, housing, utilities, rent, healthcare, or other community services (domestic violence support, etc). As I mentioned, the needs of residents impacted by COVID were deep and overlapping.

Finally, the County has built a network of stakeholders, providers and community-based organizations. This network is critical in reaching vulnerable residents most in need of assistance. Today, with the CDC eviction moratorium soon to be lifted, the County is reaching out to struggling households facing imminent eviction once the moratorium ends.

As we move toward reopening our economy, workplaces, schools and services, I hope we keep in mind some of the lessons of the pandemic. Above all, the year-over-year investments in our human services safety net matter. The investments strengthen the capacity of the County to respond to a crisis.

The investments will make sure that we can weather the next pandemic.

David Levine

President, Good Shepherd Housing and Family Services

Originally printed in the Mount Vernon Gazette.